Thursday, June 5, 2008

Love's Labour's Lost Unappreciated

Sun Media theatre critic John Coulbourne gives Love's Labours Lost 3 out of 5 stars:

"There are a number of reasons to see the Stratford Festival production of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost during its run in the Tom Patterson Theatre, where it opened last weekend.

"Sadly, pure entertainment value would be way down on the list -- a fact certain to disappoint those who were so thrilled that the erstwhile artistic director of the festival was finally making a return, directing a play on which he had built an impressive reputation.

"But while it would be unfair and certainly incorrect to suggest that time has passed the 88-year-old artist by, it passes nonetheless -- and after an unfortunate accident made it impossible for him to be on hand for the start of rehearsals (Richard Monette, another past artistic director, stepped in), Michael Langham was faced upon his arrival with not only a largely inexperienced cast drawn from the Festival's Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, but with a foreshortened rehearsal period as well.

"He was also faced with what often has been dismissed as one of Shakespeare's minor works, despite the success of his earlier productions of the work.

"Set in the court of the King of Navarre (played by Trent Pardy), it tells the tale of what happens when that King and three of his gentlemen take a pledge of chastity in favour of higher learning at the same time as the Princess of France (Alana Hawley) decides to drop by, three of her lovely ladies in tow.

"There's a sub-plot or two thrown in, with a young milkmaid (Stacie Steadman) catching the attention of both an amourous groom (veteran Brian Tree) and the King's foolishly pedantic friend (Peter Donaldson), whose young assistant (Melanie Keller) comes close to stealing the show. There's also a skit that foreshadows the Midsummer Night's Dream's play-within-a-play without ever attaining its charm. Tree, Donaldson and a few other seasoned actors have been recruited to add polish to what is, first and foremost, a showcase for students of the Birmingham Conservatory.

"And while it demonstrates that under the supervision of Martha Henry, yelling is no longer a major part of the curriculum, it also gives an indication of how far the school has to go in establishing a program to train actors ready for the Shakespearean stage.

"As one of the trio of young men surrounding the king, Ian Lake has impressive moments, but the problem with Pardy (and Jesse Aaron Dwyre and Jon de Leon, the other two members of this foursome), is that they are boys sent to do a man's job and can do little more than recite the lines and hope.

"On the distaff, Hawley, teamed with Melanie Keller, Michelle Monteith and Dalal Badr, fares better, but finally, one is left with the impression that this quartet is little more than refugees from the copying machine where they were born.

"For all that it rarely rises above the level of an accomplished and wonderfully designed (take a bow Charlotte Dean on sets and costumes and Michael J. Whitfield on lighting) high school production, there is still a major accomplishment here.

"While Langham may not have had time to fully accomplish the transition from sow's ear to silk purse, he offers up a masterclass in how to use Stratford's unique thrust stage -- a class that should be considered compulsory viewing for everyone currently directing on those stages or hoping to direct on them at any time in the future. "

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